Lars Vilks, shown here in 2010, has been under police protection since 2007. Photo: Francois Campredon/AFP/Scanpix
Lars Vilks spoke with our colleagues at The Local Sweden from his secret location following the failed attempt on his life in Copenhagen on Saturday. Here are excerpts from the interview, which can be read in its entirety here.
What is your situation at the moment?
I am in a secret location and then you have to stay there until further orders are given. I think I might be able to sneak out eventually. When you're in a secret location you're very safe, but it's also a question of how things develop. We can still hope that Paris and Copenhagen were relatively isolated events. If there's another attack soon things will probably have to be reevaluated, but otherwise I think they might let me out in the next few days. But I will not start acting on my own – if you agree to this kind of protection you have to either buy the whole package, so to speak, or completely say no to it.
Are you frightened?
No. That was a long time ago. If you have bodyguards you're surrounded by professionals. I have no reason to be scared.
Should more have been done in Copenhagen in terms of security?
Yes, I think everyone agrees on that, but what can you do? Now everyone knows, and has to accept the consequences. As tragic as this whole story is, it has taught us something.
Were you afraid for your safety after the Charlie Hebdo attacks?
I don't really have to feel anything. Other people take care of that for me and it's not for me to decide what's safe and what's unsafe. But no, I don't think so. It's an impossible carousel. We saw after the attack in Copenhagen that my protection works. Perhaps people should have been a bit more prepared, but how could you have foreseen what was about to happen? But, I think it is important to also talk about protecting the protection. It's those who help protect my life who take the blows.
Was Dan Park, another controversial Swedish artist, also there on Saturday?
Yes. He was one of those who stayed seated at his table when the shooting started, while others were trying to hide under the tables. Park is a very calm person, leisurely in a way. When extremists beat him up he usually just lets them do it, then brushes himself off and puts on an unbroken pair of spare glasses he's been carrying around in his pocket.
Park was assaulted in Copenhagen on New Year's Day, and now you were targeted. Is Denmark becoming dangerous for Swedish artists?
No, Park has been beaten up many times in Malmö too. Nobody cares about Park, because this is what you refer to as 'the good violence'. It's a terrible story, the left wing denounces the violence but not from their hearts. The best thing would have been to just leave Park alone. He was a fairly local artist until he started getting all this publicity for his opinions.
Do you think you have played a part in whipping up tensions?
But what choices are you supposed to make? You're not allowed to debate the question because you will stir up emotions, but this is the main ingredient of a democracy. I have received many threats, but those are not of interest in the public debate of hatred and threats – the threats from right-wing extremists reap a lot more rewards in media.
But do you think you have a responsibility for the safety of people around you?
That's the make-or-break question that constantly rears its ugly head in this debate. But of course I don't have such a responsibility. It's the person who acts against the rules of society who is responsible.
Is freedom of speech in danger?
You could put it like this, that there aren't many who would dare to voice any kind of criticism of Islam or anything that has anything to do with the Prophet. So that's a kind of self censorship for the artists. There have also been threats to artists coming from the right-wing extremist side of the spectrum, but those threats have so far only been threats.
The Danish Free Press Society is selling signed versions of your Prophet Muhammed painting. What's your connection to them?
They printed that and a painting by Kurt Westergaard in 2010 and they made this offer. An artist of course tries to sell his work and they gave me a good deal. They get their part of the money, some goes to the cost of printing, and some of it goes to me. [Editor's note: an offshoot of the Danish Free Press Society also sold the 'banned' works of Dan Park]
What will happen to the Lars Vilks Committee now?
I think it will continue. It has suffered a real blow, this was an historic event. If members for personal reasons think it has all become a bit too much, I understand that. I think it will continue though, but obviously if they organize a similar event again they won't leave anything to chance.
Read the rest of the interview here.